Thursday, April 30, 2015

moon over pancake trees

I stick my head under the stream of shower water
and I am surrounded by the hushed roar of
nothing but the sound of infinite silence
contained in waterfalls,
and, for a quiet minute,
I am no longer in the shower,
or the city, or anywhere.

--

Cooking and baking are two separate arts.
Cooking is something learned,
and it is full of accidents
that sabotage each of my careful,
tentative attempts.
My algebraic recipes fall flat and stale
without fail.

But baking is something innate,
an action rising out of the heart
and gut, and deep instinct,
which I could do with my eyes closed,
and half-asleep,
(which I think I've done before, in fact).
Baking is painting a blue sky;
even a misplaced stroke is blended
into a shade of the many-hued
cerulean atmosphere.

Cooking is learned: like manners,
slang, or throwing punches.
Baking is native: like smiling, imitation,
and holding your loved ones.
I cannot cook like I can bake.
But the world hungers for grilled salmon
and quinoa,
they do not want Baked Alaska and
Lemon Meringue Pie instead.

---
The trains rattle outside the windows,
in long intervals, since the stars are out,
and apartment windows mirror the constellations,
while overhead the moon hangs in the murky sky.
This moon is gradually developing,
fattening her belly until she is
stuffed full of all the silver starlight
the night sky holds.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

old paths and older boots

The tread of my boots is peeling off,
I feel the slap, slap, slap of rubber on pavement,
as I trudge through the April rains.

The words are so familiar,
resonant with past sounds.
I had forgotten all about this:
rituals of questions and answers,
exchanges of smiles and hints,
and hidden meanings in smooth words.

Exhilaration has subsided into
amusement.
Little trills of titilation dissolving into
comedic mishaps,
missed signals,
and tragic miscommunication.

Something grabs at my heart:
something choking me.
A thought--I was going to be you.
I would have,
at one point,
been you--

I experience something sickening,
waves of envy, tossing my heart about
like a helpless boat caught in monsoon storms.
The air is laced with dissatisfaction,
Perhaps something more.
A sacrifice.
But not a glamorous sacrifice--
a daily task that is
thankless,
worthy and mundane
and certainly not fit for Instagram.

Peace has flown out the window,
perhaps seeking more
aesthetically pleasing stomping-grounds.
So we wait.
we wait,
for the familiar flood of Joy to return.
Perhaps it will,
with each step, it approaches--
with the slap, slap of my peeling sole
in the April rain.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

fickle and fey


Earlier this month, I was sitting in our cold parish hall (the parish hall/cafeteria/rehearsal stage is always cold, and I have come to accept it as such: a blessing in the summer, a curse in the winter), rehearsing a monologue with one of the lovely student actors, and she began to cry. Instantly, I thought of the countless acting classes I attended in high school which included so many tears. An inordinate number of tears, honestly. 

Quite a wasteful amount. But the teachers always seem to push us to where we would cry, and then would step back and let us, tears streaming down our faces, recite whatever Chekhov monologue or Shakespeare sonnet we had been assigned. Perhaps this is why theatre people are mocked severely, as they ought to be.
As soon as our dear student began to cry, I felt a twinge of remorse grab my heart. Oh dear. Oh no.

We asked her why she was crying: "I don't know!" she laughed through her tears, "I'm just so frustrated!" You are fine, I told  her. You are fine. You are doing good work. You are doing great work. So. Now. From right where you are: say the monologue
And she did. 
And it was not perfect, but it was real. 

Perhaps what the tears mean is that you have gotten past a certain barrier, where emotion has kicked in and your brain, which regulates your thoughts and feelings has subsided.


--

I was riding the train with Sarah, and we saw a man who had a mane and beard like Jesus, and this strange, large ring: a heavy sterling ring shaped like a wolf on his finger. He was so mysterious, this Jesus man with the wolf ring. I was fascinated by him.

--

I miss college, because I miss the luxury of time devoted to thinking. In school, you have great clarity, because you have the luxury of time dedicated to clarifying your vision, of learning how to calibrate your vision to see goodness and evil starkly contrasted. I miss education, and the thoughtfulness it is attempting to cultivate.

--

One thing I also love seeing on the trains are elderly folk who have their iPhone texting font set to a larger font size. It gives me great joy, and I don't know why. Perhaps it is a reminder to be grateful for your eyes. Or perhaps it is just a little bit of human individuality in the bleak homogeneity of the ultra-blah human cyborgs we are becoming under the cold, well-designed, iron thumb of Apple Nation. Not trying to throw shade, I love the Apple Store Genius Bar [and the fit, bearded geeks who man it] just as much as the next MacBook Pro owner. Just calling it like I see it here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

the past

Not as it was to live 
but as it is remembered.
--Heaven, Patrick Phillips

I'm sitting here in this sunlit classroom.
The students are reading.
It's that time of the year when the insides of buildings switch from heat to air conditioning. But the windows are open, to let in the fresh spring air, which warms the hearts of those missing the outdoors and tortures those who suffer from allergies to tree pollen.
It's that time of the year when the students begin to complain about the air conditioning. Turn it ooofff.
Nooooo I want to respond. But, thankfully, usually none of us can figure out how to adjust the air-conditioning units, so my protests are unnecessary. So we get to keep the room just a little bit chilly, and I get to stare out the window at spring overtaking East Harlem.

But, at this time of year, I'm frantically trying to save all my old gchats (yes, I have since learned about Thunderbird, and yeah, I guess I'll do it, it just sounds like a lot of effort right now, because it's late in the afternoon so just give me a second already) from all four years of college.

Yes, my college email is finally disappearing. I suppose this moment of reckoning is long overdue. But I'm glad I had a year (give or take a month or two) to ease my way out of it. I remember my sister sobbing as we left Notre Dame after her graduation. I, a callow sophomore, was sympathetic, but also was pretty eager to get a break from a hectic semester, so I could not truly understand her tears.

I am thankful that I never had a endure a moment of complete severing with the past, but rather experienced a slow, gradual fade-out. Almost before I could realize it, the past had slipped away, and I found myself no longer a college student, but a teacher in a room full of children daring me to lead them.

Since then, time seems to have tumbled over itself, it moves so fast. Each new season this year has arrived at breakneck pace, and even the slushy winter has sudden melted into warm sunshine and sweet breeze. The long clumps of slush lining the sidewalks have been replaced by the elegant, dancing branches of shining cherry blossoms, waving in the wind like sweet-smelling snow clouds caught in the tree limbs.

And so, as I looked over the lines of text from the past: little missives sent in the heat of many different moments, I can examine myself like an insect captured in amber. It is good to remember the past: to remember that once upon a time you were eager and earnest enough to liberally pepper your conversation with smiley faces (before there were emojis), and plenty of exclamation points for all the emphasis each statement needed. It is good to remember who you were before you knew anything about the world, it is good to recall how painfully naive one was. And yet, how much wiser one was then! How much more certain in one's own opinion and perspective.

Perhaps, there is much to be learned from ourselves in the hard and fast relics of the past. Our own memories of the past are not reliable. They grow and shift with us; each new layer of ourselves is spread over our memories. Each time we revisit these stories, we re-interpret them, find new plots points in the story, find new meaning. Our pasts are constantly in the state of re-interpretation.

But these little stories captured in g-chat (a writing medium indelibly marked with nostalgia), I re-remember these moments as they were when they were happening. And, looking back, I can see how my own interpretation of events was perhaps not always the correct one. There were moments I missed, cues I misinterpreted, expressions I misread. I smile as I read old terms of endearment, and remember how important fleeting conversations became. I shudder as I see, with perfect hindsight, warning signals that I had previously ignored.

As I lazily type in the sun-soaked classroom, the past descends like the hazy clouds of dust-specks on the room. Everything breathes slower, and falls into the quiet pace of a lazy stream-of-consciousness. The past is imminent yet intangible. With a start, I realize I am no longer part of it. It is a part of me, but the stories from the past belong there.

I am now a visitor in what was once the present, but is now an ancient, alien land we have outgrown. It is populated by ghosts, and the nymphs of past selves.
It is valuable to visit, but a toxic place to set up camp. How funny to have found that it is no longer home, but now a destination to be returned to on rainy summer Sundays.




Tuesday, April 21, 2015

filched welcome mats

There's a rumble in the Western sky
and I turn to find the river flooded with an orange and crimson light.
The funny thing about the city--
or, pardon me, The City--
is that you have to choose between sunsets and sunrises.

If you belong to Yorkville,
and the green and brick walk-ups,
and the stately and inane
honeycombs of buildings
housing hidden courtyards
off of Lexington and Park,
if you run along East River Parkway,
and your bodegas bleed into the Starbucks,
then you have chosen sunrise.

You get to see the sun peek up above the water,
and shine over the roofs of Queens.
Each morning, on your way to work,
you get to see a pinkish glow
color the hazy city fog,
and that little glint:
the dazzle of sunlight on river
is your allotted magic for the day.

If you belong to West Side:
to Chelsea, Clinton, Morningside,
to the 1 train,
to families with strollers,
and craggy Central Park,
to New Money,
and the ancient, swirling staircases of mammoth brownstones,
lining silent, tree-lined colonies,
then you have chosen sunset.

You wander up Broadway,
following its mysterious twists and turns,
you wander past St. John the Divine,
and you leave the Heights far behind,
until you have reached the far upper
regions of Manhattan,
another corner of another borough,
entirely unlike any other place,
surrounded by river water,
 Jersey cliffs,
and sunset.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

believe twice of what you see


Things I learned today:
I learned the woman in the bar down the road wears a cowboy hat and great lipstick.
I saw a man writing something on brick with a stump of cigarette
I learned that our corner smells like weed sometimes in the middle of the afternoon.
I learned that the drab dog down the road loves the school children who wait for the bus each morning, and walk home with their mothers in the bright afternoon.
I saw that the doors of Trinity Church are locked during the middle of the day. They are only opened on Sunday.
I discovered that the E train always comes when I need it.
I found out that the F train is not as bad as I first thought.
I decided the 7 train when it shoots above ground is second only to the G train, when it rises above Brooklyn to snatch a view of Lady Liberty.
I have learned that I always try to do too much, and will someday learn how to say no. Today is not that day. But tomorrow might be better.
I knelt in front of the Statue of St. Jude. And I knew that all my causes, though impossible, are not lost ones.
I learned that I am not an adult.
I learned that N is speaking at Fr. Ted's funeral.
I learned that New York City is magical, even in the slush.
Yorkville is so beautiful this time of year.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

the arrow of carnations

“When I confront a human being as my Thou and speak the basic word I-Thou to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things. He is no longer He or She, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighbor-less and seamless, he is Thou and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.” ― Martin Buber, I & Thou


He walk through the silence of the summer park at sunset.
He watches the sycamores sway in the pulsing wind,
and the sunlight shimmer on the lake,
the way it does on all the homely lakes of summers past.

He runs, the smell of hyacinths clogging the air,
that first blush of spring sunlight transforming the entire world
into a gilded sponge of sweet scents and
shadows of poplar branches on the sidewalk

He leaps across the old wooden fence,
with the agility that comes from an old age,
withered down into a single taught muscle.
he can never stop chasing sunsets.

The moon rises on a girl in a window,
looking out into the violescent dusk of the sidewalk.
She feels somewhat trapped by wrought iron and brown stone,
but her walls echo with the pound of all the heartbeats
running underground,
and all the stories from the streets
seep through her floorboards.

Voices trialing out of the taxis rolling by,
are laughing gaily: they've never heard
the tolling bell of hardship.
Their days are filled with rushing to the places
where the women crying on the street corner cannot reach them.

A thousand swirling pieces of a letter fly
in the wind currents of his self-perpetuated wake.
They flutter, their small scraps bearing words like:
forever
and I love you
and Who can understand.
Their presence in the windstorm belies their orphaned state,
Sweet words receiving a cold reception of hate.

Coming from somewhere deep within,
the city shines with an internal sun.
Perhaps it comes from that small girl,
who's standing on Brook Avenue,
and saying to her mother,
bitter, worn, and old:
in a voice warmer than a winter coat:
You are good, and that's all they need to know.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

power stances according to me

Power Stances are current big thing in pop psychology. Amy Cuddy has a TED talk dedicated to her scientifically-backed power poses. Here are a few of my own, backed less by science and more by fancy:

1. Letting dishes air dry. ("You can just let the rest sit.")
2. Hailing a cab. (Come to me, my yellow minions)
3. Letting couples do the dishes. (They can canoodle while scrubbing the cookie sheets, I can turn on Broad City)
4. Opening a tab. ("Oh keep it open" ~waves hand con largesse~)
5. Spinning in dresses with voluminous skirts. (Feeling like a bloated peony lying on the ground is the essence of power)
6. Meeting passive aggression with directness. (Let your 'yes' mean 'yes' and your 'no' mean 'no' and your "If you want to go ahead of me in line, ma'am, please do, I'm in no rush." mean just that.)
7. Taking bubble baths. (Decadence is power)
8. Balancing on the trains with no hands. (If you do it while laughing loudly and stumbling into other passengers, you are not powerful, just a teenage boy with his friends.)
9. Flipping my hair. (No explanation needed.)
10. Making kissy noises at puppies. (They won't let on, but they go crazy for it)
11. Laughing gaily. (Haters gonna hate, but I won't be able to hear them over my laugh that runs octaves up and down the scale.)
12. Wearing high heels. (Warrior shoes, I call them.)
13. Thinking about Canada. (I'm heady on power and maple syrup)
14. Winking. (It spices up normal interactions with a flair of secrecy.  
How are you? 
Oh, I'm good. ~wink~)
15. Making Eye Contact with a student just as they're about to stick gum to the computer keyboard. (Oh. Don't. You. Dare.)


Monday, April 6, 2015

the epitaph of education

I held in my hand a library card.
A bright, shiny, new library card for the magical and beloved NYC public library.
Of all my newly acquired possessions: a grown-up watch, business casual clothes, school-appropriate shoes, my favorite is my new library card.
I feel that library cards have been injured by the amount of attention they received in Barney or other,  equivalent children's shows that sang cheesy songs about loving the library and their library card.
But I do. I really do. I love my library card.

I don't like digital things, because they are not real. I suppose they are, to a certain extent. But it's hard to be moved by words that are because books are not just words, and words are not just the combinations of letters. Word are the wild, sloped script of your best friend, or the neat, dainty print of another best friend, or the timbre of your other best friend's voice on the phone. Words are the neat, Colonial font in a serene and stately blue on the cream book cover. They are the swirling curlicues of red on the student's late assignment. They are the musty smell of your grandfather's old Nancy Drew books, and the crumbling pages inside of them.

Words are not stable, static, digital icons. They are messy and physical and woven into the fabric of our world.

And I love libraries, because there's something very important in encountering books that are not yours. While I, too, dream of amassing my own library, whose miniscule beginning is currently taking up space in my parents' house, because I have not yet invested in bookshelves. Bookshelves in New York are a luxury, that I cannot indulge in currently. One day, perhaps, one day, I will have a massive cave where I can roll about decadently in the volumes and volumes of books I have acquired.

But, perhaps not. In the words of my grandmother: The only three places I need within walking distance for me are: the Church, the grocery store, and the library.

Because libraries are books that have traveled. Maybe there are passages underlined in light pencil, or dog-eared by a student studying. Maybe some scoundrel has marked in INK (le gasp) in the sidebars. Sometimes there are tangential annotations in the margins. Library books have reminders of previous readers in their pages. There is something more fundamentally aligned with what books actually mean to borrow a book from a library than to hoard them in your house (as much as I adore doing that as well). Books are shared knowledge, not private knowledge attained through one's own powers. They are a collective effort to preserve the ideas of past thinkers into these precious, fragile, corruptible pages packed in perishable binding. It is a fool-hardy an impractical endeavor: trying to preserve something for eternity, housed in a shell of mortality.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

eternal as his love




Many times, I struggle to picture what exactly happens after death, which usually leads to the downward spiral of wondering if there is anything at all, or this is all just wishful thinking or who really knows what is after death or or or or... (Not very appropriate thoughts to begin a post with on the feast of the Resurrection, but there it is.)


When I listen to the above song, however, I know that all I was made for, and all I will do for all eternity is sing the soprano II part for Charles Wood's Hail, Gladdening Light. I do not want to do anything else, and I certainly would never tire of Wood's Hail, Gladdening Light. As I listen to it, I wondered sadly if I would ever sing it with a choir ever again. But I love it too much for the opportunity to sing it together to never present itself again. I will sing it over and over again, with that delightful, tireless monotony of a child that Chesterton praises.


Speaking of monotony, now that we have reached the end of Holy Week, I feel myself crying out: Again! Again! How can I wait one more year to live these few short days over again? It seems unfair to have to wait a whole 'nother year to live these days once more.

One thing that I have learned is that often we do not ever get to choose the community we are called to. We can choose our environment and the work that we wish to do, we can even choose our spouse, but often we cannot choose our co-workers, our roommates (sometimes), or our children. The people that we are surrounded by, the people who truly impact our day-to-day living, who make it what it truly is, are often out of our control to select. But we are called to celebrate Christ with them; to celebrate in these communities in which we find ourselves. Usually, we are often not called to change the communities or save the communities, but simply to find Christ in little corners where no one had thought to look for Him. This is easy to say, and hard to remember to do all the time. Often, I need something like Easter to help me to remember that Easter does not have to be at Notre Dame, the Vatican, or my beloved home parish. Wherever I go, I must learn to celebrate Easter there.

This year, finding Easter in the middle of Manhattan was a beautiful challenge. It is so easy--too easy, I have found, to get caught up in the mundane stresses of daily life. But, in Easter, we are reminded of the true greatness of the world.  This one story we are living and telling really matters. It is the only thing that matters, and through it, our lives matter. But this story: so sad, so strange, so particular, makes the world a deeper, darker, more mystical, and more hopeful place. When it is Easter, more light appears on the sidewalk. Encouraged by a renewed sense of hope and purpose, I found myself lifting my head a little higher.

It is so easy to get caught up in the daily grind of the subways, the traffic, the jostling on the sidewalks, that these holy days, set apart to tell this story of salvation, are necessary reminders of what life is truly made of. It is not made of the rat race or the constant bustle, it is made of Our Risen Lord. Adult life is very distracting from the real things in life: Faith, Hope, and Love. It is good to be reminded, in an adult world that makes one feel so small and unimportant sometimes, like a squalid little cog in a metropolitan machine, of the grandeur of the story we are living.

At the beginning, I mentioned how hard it is not to be afraid of death: to not wonder if there really is anything at all beyond it, what it feels like, what comes after, does it hurt to be dead, etc. But, today, I am not afraid, somehow. There is something courageous today: something defiant in its mocking death: oh where now is thy sting. Something altogether more mysterious than the Crucifixion. One can imagine what the crucifixion looked like. But Christ's Resurrection is shrouded in mystery: what exactly does it mean to be Resurrected? What does it look like? What does it really mean? All we know is the fruits of the event: the word of God spread like wildfire throughout the world, the surge of love running through the world and splitting the veil between God and man, and the beautiful mystery of the Resurrection turned cowardly Apostles into fearless Evangelists

I lie in my cozy little corner of the world, tucked in my bed by the window, and feel somehow suddenly protected against the big, bad adult world out there. I listen to the familiar, beloved melody over and over again, and look out, now we have come to the sun's hour of rest, into the dark city, and behold all the lights of evening 'round me shining in the apartment windows.

Personally, I would prefer my lights of evening to be big, bright stars in liquid constellations hanging in a midnight sky. But there is something very sacred in the apartment windows of Manhattan. They are like candles lining side chapels of a cathedral. Each of them represents the lives, hopes, desires, and fervent prayers of a million little lives, lives lived inside each bright window. What better way could Manhattan hymn the father than to shine the lights of their windows as candles. Truly, thy glories, Lord, they own.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

for it is nearly evening

for how 
 in that great darkness 
could I explain anything, 
anything at all. 
--"Cows at Night", by Hayden Carruth

 As we walked into Mass at the start of this Triduum, slowly, remembering that first Eucharist, we sang the lines:
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead, by drawing all to you, O Prince of Peace.
Suddenly, I felt my family here. They were gathered around the same table.
I felt the presence of the Liturgical Choir, and the Mass of the Lord's Supper.
I thought of my friend doing goodness knows what in Honduras.
I thought of churches in Chicago, churches in London.
I thought of Rome, and all the masses there.
I wondered a bit what their Holy Weeks had brought them: what they were thinking and feeling, but mostly I didn't have to wonder any of that, as I usually have to. At that moment, I knew what we were doing. I knew what this day was about for all of us: we were entering this story together.
Whatever other stories were occurring in their lives, I knew that these three days we were living the same story. All over the world, this story was being recreated together.

Each time I approach Holy Week, I feel that if I had the role in the story it would be Peter, who, when he sees his beloved threatened, is quick to resort to violence. He can hardly listen to when Christ tells him the Christ must suffer and die, Peter swears to follow him, Peter is sift like wheat. Peter's narrative of denial is recorded in all three Gospels, and if I were Peter, my ego would be certainly stung by that. Oooookay guys, we only found it necessary to write the Bread of Life narrative in one book, like literally the most insane and revolutionary thing Jesus ever said, but I guess we all just have to jump on the story of That Time Peter Screwed Up, Don't We?

Just kidding, I'm sure he didn't say that, because after that moment of denial, of weeping in the dead of night, I'm sure his humility is stronger than mine, and he knew that all Christians ought to read that story: that story of forgiveness and hope overcoming his own weakness. For what excuse do we have after we face that story? Peter was not chosen as a leader because he had superior moral strength and courage, he was chosen because he was loved. At an hour of testing, he did what most of us would do: he flunked the test. If a ring of suspicious people circled about me, asking me if I had anything to do with this man they were beating up and sending speedily to his death, you can bet that my cowardice would kick in big time. My palms would get all sweaty, and that cold pit of fear would probably freeze any sort of heroic virtue I had inside of me.

But I, too, have no excuse. Because, after Peter lost his strength for goodness, he ran and sought forgiveness. After Peter fell, he turned and strengthened his brethren. Sometimes it is easier to wail and mourn and beat our breasts, and dwell on the sins that we have committed. Sometimes it is easier to wallow in our brokenness than get busy with the task of healing.

Growing up, I remember being shocked when the role I was allotted during the famously long Holy Week Gospel readings was to shout "Crucify Him! Crucify Him." The shock never diminished, even when I was no longer numbly calling it out with the parish nave, but singing it from the choir loft, the sweet notes hardly diminishing the stinging words. Why are we given this role? I wondered. How can I pretend to shout Cruficy Him! Crucify Him! when that is the exact opposite of what I want, of what I would say? And then, to speak this words: "Not this man, but Barabbas." How many times in my life do I turn my back on This Man and say: not you, but Barabbas. Not you, but this cheap imitation. Not you, but this sad and sorry alternative that is hardly appealing, except to my stubborn self and iron will.


But I am invited, each year, not to stay a member of the angry mob, but to become the Magdalene, hugging the foot of the cross, or Mary, picking Jesus up as he falls. We are allowed to put ourselves in the feet of John at the foot of the cross, holding Mary close. We are called to become the thief on the cross, asking to be remembered in Paradise. The story of the cross, the story of the paschal mystery is one of love conquering sin.

The love of the cross is deeper than any of our denials. And the love for which it thirsts--our love--can also triumph over all our tawdry, cowardly sins. At the end of the day, the cross no longer signifies the horror of death, of sin. No, now it is our glory. Now, the cross is our picture of victory. The symbol of death has been utterly transformed into a glorious image of love.

Friday, April 3, 2015

tel-yesha

The sadness of Peter's heart is the sound
of a thousand violin strings breaking,
And the cock crow is the only witness
to Judas' body swinging in the
cold wind that whips at Veronica's veil,
hanging on the clothesline,
which sparrows perch on
to rest from the crush of
crowded bodies that fill Jerusalem's
streets, kicking up clouds of dust
that choke the women like their tears.
Even the stones that Simon stumbles on
are streaked with screaming scarlet,
the scent of blood and rusty iron
permeates the sandy air.

Mary's eyes are frozen, fixed on the small light shining
 against the darkness falling all around her.
That small light she was given,
burns slowly, inevitably towards its end,
the hill where it will be
snuffed out.
Each step that burns her foot
brings it closer to extinguishing,
each step is a sword that sticks her heart.
But she guards her light,
with all a mother's gentle care,
 even as it goes to die.

The Magdalene feels a drop fall on her shoulder,
rain and blood falling together from the sky above her,
running down the fragile legs she clings to,
the rain washing the clots of blood from the coarse hair.
Her sleeve wipes the tears from her face,
she lifts it higher to clean
and dirt from the twisted feet in front of her,
stuck through with nails,
turning blue from loss of blood,
but finally resting from their awful journey,
having now reached the destination they were born to.
Her tears once again anoint these precious limbs,
and she lifts her hair to wipe away the blood.

John cannot watch.
He stands at Miryam's side,
and watches the Magdalene,
As she cleans the stain of their
own cowardice from the master's
limbs, and holds
what he cannot bring himself to touch.

From above him, he hears a voice calling to him.
He cannot look up.
The voice continues calling.
That voice--a ragged remnant of the voice
that called him from his fishing nets--
wheezing, cracking under the weight
of dying lungs, still touches something
deep inside of him.
He does not want to live
without that voice.
His heart breaking, he finally lifts his eyes,
to meet those of his broken brother.
He cannot bear to see in them
the familiar love
mixed with such grotesque pain.
The eyes ask him not to look away.
And John will not let his brother die alone.
So, he holds his mother closer,
Lifts his face against the rain,
And his heart breaks.
The voice's wheezing dissolves into
a deafening silence.
He weeps.





Thursday, April 2, 2015

snowflakes on my tongue

because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
--Sassy John 2:11

The Gospels' tartness is highly underrated. The irony of certain passages is lost in the friendly voice of the pastor. This is perhaps one of my favorite of all these little digs, worthy of Chesterton or Parker or Abigail Van Buren.

Of course, certainly, the Creator of the world would understand human nature better than anyone else. Imagine the great irony of someone trying to explain to the Son of God how humans operate.

Imagine the great irony of a creature approaching God and asking: What do you want? Whatever it is; I will give it to you. When, in reality, what they are asking: what can I give you that will satisfy you enough that you will not ask for me? What can I use for my bartering chip that will allow me to still rule the kingdom of myself? 

I want so desperately for their to be two governing powers: God and myself. In my mental utopia, we will exist as friendly allies. Situated nearby one another: an easy sea-voyage, but not too close for comfort: a buffer of considerable distance between us. Our relationship will be that one of friendly commerce and open trade: I will provide for Him the things He desires from my neatly cultivated kingdom, and He will give me what I need from His. I am like a small island kingdom, and He is like a mainland king. He has significantly more wealth and power than I do, so I know myself (in a nagging, annoying way), to be in His debt. In order to keep my economy running, I need his assistance. I know that He could find a thousand other trade partners with a snap of His fingers, so I need to keep Him happy. I need to convince Him that He has a need to trade with me. I know that He does not need me, but I need Him, so the status quo is in His favor.

On the other hand, I know that if He so desired, He could conquer me in the blink of an eye. His power is so much greater than mine that His troops could overrun my motley militia in probably less than a day. I am mortally afraid of this conquest. I must acquiesce to requests from Him I would not heed from other powers, because I need to persuade Him that I am allied to Him enough that He does not see fit to overrule me.

If I play my political cards correctly, then I will be able to live in my unsteady and perilous independence for the foreseeable future. And I will never truly know or understand Him, because I am imagining Him thinking as I think, calculating as I calculate, and desiring what I desiring: which is an ever-increasing inflation of self. This is why I am scared to capitulate to Him: because I imagine Him to be seeking what I seek: an increase of myself at the expense of all else. To fill the world with more of Me, and less of Other People. To minimize the amount of other material, and to maximize the amount of myself. And I will be damned if allow myself to help Him succeed in His mission of self-expansion.

How can we begin to understand, to comprehend a Being whose desire is not Self, but Other? We can hardly do this, because this is an agenda so contrary to our own. But His desire is not for Himself, but for us. But not an "us" that is just swallowed up and consumed by Him, but an "us" that is gloriously, fully alive, through being washed by Him. Through Him, we are freed to be the selves that we are meant to be. We are no longer attached to this desperate agenda of self-expansion, which is every human being's tempting manifest destiny.

As He stoops down to wash our feet, we understand that the greatness that we seek is not found in self-assertion. It is not found in proving to the world that we are Something; it is not found in constantly seeking our own increase. It will be found in surrendering our pride, our sense of what the world ought to be, and how things ought to work, and letting Him wash our feet.

As we finally surrender ourselves, as the water of grace washes over us, we finally find the greatness and we seek in the love that makes us clean.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

integritas

Holy Week is my favorite time of year, because it is a time that tears down--if only for the moment--the veil that we hang between the secret, private sphere of our spiritual life, and the outside world. Holy Week--the Triduum particularly--denies the division between what we celebrate in our faith and "normal life." Normal life disappears; daily routines shift slightly, alter undeniably, as the mystery we celebrate in Church spills over to color the whole day.

There are certain activities you just can't do on Good Friday, for example (perhaps a prime example). One couldn't just go shopping like it was any other Friday, or go to a bar as if it was the end of any other week, or get a massage or anything decadent like that. The day demands more of us than attendance at a church service: it demands remembrance. A remembrance that soaks the entire day in somber reverence.

For human beings act of memory is not just a cerebral act: it is not just an awareness inside of our hearts; when a human being remembers how they were burned by the stove, they jump as the gas light ignites the flames in the burner. Their memory leads to a physical reaction. Our memories are present in our bodies. Just the recollection of sadness can cause our bodies to crumple, past excitement can bring a smile to our face and a spring to our walk, and just the memory of anger or outrage can cause our blood to boil and turn our faces scarlet.

We hear this truth echoed in this phrase: "do this in memory of me." Memories drive us. They lead us to destroy or create; to tear down or build up. A memory demands something of us: it demands action. To keep a memory truly alive, it is not enough just to have an intellectual recollection of the facts, but to let the memories spur us to action; to let the memories inspire our daily words and thoughts, to let the memories overwhelm us and transform us.

One of the reasons I am just tickled pink to be Catholic is the central role memory plays in liturgy and theology. The Catholic liturgy is primarily concerned with memory. We read scripture to remember these stories from the past, and we offer a sacrifice with words of Christ's that ask us to commemorate Him.

Commemorate: remember with. Our participation in the memory is absolutely essential to keeping the memory alive; to preserving the memory, to keeping the memory true to what it is. And what this memory offers us in turn is transformation. The memories we hold on our own shape us so completely, so too, do these collective memories we share with the entire Church. These memories we hold as one body transform all of us: transform our hearts and transform our memories. So that, threaded through our own memories and our own stories, we have once central memory: one fundamental story.